We often speak as though community is a function of technology, but it’s the other way around. People form communities on their own, the role of community creators and managers is to provide framework, platform and values for this basic human need. One of the key success points we all look for is a community that’s self-sustaining; where direct input from staff is no longer required and we can become more like pub landlords and less like party hosts.
A great sign of this kind of community health is when your community ecosystem is larger than your own platforms. One of the most gratifying things for a community builder is seeing members organise meetups and building strong real-life social links. I’m fortunate enough to have even attended weddings (and births!) that resulted from connections and bonds formed in forum communities that I helped to build.
What Kind of Events Build Community?
It’s common to think of community events as being expensive, company run affairs like cons and official meetups. Those can be great (although not within everyone’s budget), but your community events don’t have to be limited to that. Off-site community can be as simple as:
- Everybody in a games community getting together to play a few games
- A group of community members getting together for a few drinks
- A community-run charity fundraiser
- Collaborative community projects (such as podcasts or fansites)
...or one of a thousand other possibilities.
A great example of this is the events that spring up around the Penny Arcade Expo. The expos themselves are huge, popular events, but the Penny Arcade community also runs countless meetups, bar crawls, game sessions and charity drives around the cities of Seattle, Boston, San Antonio and Melbourne each year. For many visitors, these are an even bigger draw than the show itself, and the forum community is a huge part of encouraging and planning these events.
How Can You Encourage This Type of Community Event?
A huge part of the appeal of this type of event is the fact that you and your team don’t have to organize them. Your part is more to create the atmosphere that encourages these events to take place and remove roadblocks to organising them. It’s possible to rely on long email and PM chains or Facebook events to get things going, but this presents a number of stumbling blocks for organisers and attendees.
I’ve had good luck with using the Groups plugin in Vanilla, which allows members to create their own subcategory and events calendar. Other members are then either invited or ask to join and access the group information. It’s a good way of reducing clutter, because members who aren’t interested can simply not join the group. Similar functionality should be achievable on other platforms by setting aside specific event organisation categories and threads.
You can also help your community along simply by promoting and encouraging events when they do show up. Announce them on your community Twitter and Facebook pages beforehand (only for open events of course), and post some pictures or info about successful events afterwards. Including community-run events in your newsletter is also a great way of bringing attention to them and showing the organisers that they’re valued by the community management.
This helps to create a feeling that the community is being built by all the members, not simply by the monolithic “Official” staff. Instilling the idea that these events are just as valid and valuable as official ones will do a lot instil a sense of community pride and belonging in your members. That sense of pride is the difference between communities that count their lifetimes in months and ones that count the decades.